The Conservative Party has suffered its first casualty in the wake of Wiltshire Council leader Jane Scott and her senior Cabinet members voting themselves “outrageous” personal allowance increases after making 252 staff redundant.
Christopher Franklin, three-times Mayor of Tidworth, has written to Claire Perry, Tory MP for Devizes, declaring that he will not be renewing his party membership because he is so disgusted by the council’s decision.
He has accused the councillors of insensitivity by “feathering their own nests” in voting to boost Councillor Scott’s allowance by £15,000 – more than some people earn in a year — to £52,227 a year and allowances for Cabinet members by at least 22 per cent, up to £15,101 and £18,433 a year.
“You have Conservative Wiltshire councillors who have taken the mickey and give the impression of being out for themselves when, as a public body, you sometimes have to make sacrifices yourself to meet the needs of others – not feather your own nest,” Councillor Franklin says in a local paper statement.
“That’s what they have done. They have feathered their own nest.”
Councillor Scott has not replied to his criticism or that of independent Wiltshire councillors Jeff Osborn and Terry Chivers or a petition launched by 47-year-old businessman Paul Gaunt calling on Mrs Scott and her colleagues to resign.
A statement issued by the unitary authority claims it is not appropriate for Mrs Scott to comment, pointing out: “This was a decision made by full council and will impact on every Wiltshire councillor, regardless of their political party.
“Allowances are allocated to the posts and not the councillors who currently hold those positions. A councillor can choose to accept or not accept the increase in allowance.”
While insisting that the whole affair has made people doubt the sincerity of councillors, Councillor Franklin has declined to join the demand for Mrs Scott and her senior colleagues to quit. He believes they should turn down the allowance increases – all back dated to May this year — and apologise.
Lionel Grundy, chairman of Devizes Conservative Association, is quoted as saying it would be regrettable if Mayor Franklin decided to leave the party over the allowances payments, an issue in which the local association had no say.
“I will be sorry if he decides to go,” he adds.
More than 2,000 have so far signed Mr Gaunt’s online petition, which can be found at wehavesolutions.co.uk.
“The emails I am getting are saying they agree something needs to happen, and this is a step too far in these current austere times,” he said.
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, and the independent Conservative Home website have both criticised Wiltshire Council.
“But it seems our local Conservative MPs are following the example of Councillor Jane Scott by saying nothing or very little about this scandal,” Councillor Chivers told Marlborough News Online.
“I’m sure that many residents like myself have contacted the county’s MPs to register their total disgust over these outrageous increases in allowances,” he said. “Liberal Democrat MP Duncan Hames was the first to condemn them. I received a reply of three words from Andrew Murrison MP, which simply said the matter was up to the council, John Glen MP replied but, yet again, failed to condemn the actions of Jane Scott and her Cabinet.
“However, Claire Perry MP, James Gray MP and Michelle Donelan, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Chippenham, are all following the example of Councillor Scott by failing to reply.
“The public of Wiltshire are very angry, the peoples’ petition calling for the resignation of Councillor Scott, and her Cabinet has now passed the 2,000 mark and growing fast.
“Councillor Scott may chose to ignore questions from the press and public, but she can’t hide forever.”